In Hollywood, the wave of anti-Communist investigation that was later termed "McCarthyism" actually began in 1947, three years before Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908–1957) embarked on his personal crusade (eventually becoming chair of the Subcommittee on Investigations in the US Senate). The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) had convened before the war to investigate allegations of Communist influence in the movie industry but suspended its activities for the duration of the war. In 1947 Chairman J. Parnell Thomas (1895–1970), replacing the late Martin Dies, interrogated the "unfriendly" witnesses who became known as the Hollywood Ten. For refusing to answer questions that would have involved implicating others, the Ten were convicted of "contempt of Congress" and mostly served short prison sentences before emerging to face unemployability. The Ten would have been Eleven, but Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956)—whose latest work, significantly, was a play about Galileo—pretended not to understand English well enough to answer questions in his first session, then fled the country. After years of appeals, two of the Hollywood Ten, Lester Cole and Ring Lardner Jr. (1915–2000), arrived in Danbury Prison to serve their terms, only to find Congressman Thomas, convicted in the interim of embezzling from the federal purse, among their fellow inmates.
The Hollywood Communists suffered for slipping "subversive" dialogue into scripts: the line "hare and share alike, that's democracy" in Edward Dmytryk's (1908–1999) Tender Comrade (1943) tipped off Ginger Rogers's (1911–1995) mother that the writer Dalton Trumbo (1905–1976) was a Red. Yet it is hard to detect traces of anything that might count as Communist or even socialist propaganda in any of the films, good or bad, made by the Ten. The Ten were mostly talented journeymen: Cole, writer of The Invisible Man Returns (1939), which has a miners' strike subplot; Lardner, who later wrote M * A * S * H (1970); Trumbo, who wrote AGuy Named Joe (1943) and Spartacus (1960); Dmytryk, director of Captive Wild Woman (1943) and Murder, My Sweet (1944); John Howard Lawson (1895–1977), writer of Terror in a Texas Town (1958); Herbert Biberman (1900–1971), director of Meet Nero Wolfe (1936), writer of King of Chinatown (1939); Adrian Scott (1912–1973), producer of Murder, My Sweet and Crossfire (1947); Alvah Bessie, writer of Northern Pursuit (1943) and Hotel Berlin (1945); Albert Maltz, writer of This Gun for Hire (1942) and The Man in Half Moon Street (1944); and Samuel Ornitz (1890–1957), writer of Hit Parade of 1937 (1937) and Little Orphan Annie (1939).
Other "unfriendlies," former or current radicals eventually blacklisted, included actors Gale Sondergaard (1899–1985), John Garfield (1913–1952), Kim Hunter (1922–2002), Zero Mostel (1915–1977), and Lionel Stander (1909–1994), writers Dashiell Hammett (1894–1961) (who went stubbornly to jail), Carl Foreman (1914–1984), and Walter Bernstein (b. 1919) (who dealt with the period in his autobiographical script The Front , 1976), and directors Joseph Losey (1909–1984), Jules Dassin (b. 1911), and Cy Endfield (1914–1995). Most of these had, at one time or another, been "card-carrying" Communists, that is, members of the American Communist Party (CPUSA). Some directors (Losey, Endfield) went to Europe and eventually became successful there; some writers used pseudonyms or fronts until it was safe to be credited again. Many endured long periods of forced inactivity. Abraham Polonsky (1910–1999) did not direct between Force of Evil (1948) and Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969), managing only one further feature in the remaining thirty years of his life. On the strength of his debut feature, it seems obvious that without the blacklist he would have had a career at least on a level with Edward Dmytryk (who eventually named names) and possibly on a level with Elia Kazan (1909–2003) (who famously became a "friendly"). Actors, of course, were hardest hit of all: some (Sam Wanamaker [1919–1993]) became refugees, but others cracked and informed (Lee J. Cobb [1911–1976], Sterling Hayden [1916–1986], Lloyd Bridges [1913–1998]) to resume their careers.
Under Thomas, HUAC obsessively alleged that "Red writers" insidiously worked the Party Line into Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musicals or Fox thrillers, polluting the minds of American audiences. Investigations failed to turn up any concrete incidences of subversion beyond Lionel Stander whistling "Internationale" while waiting for an elevator in No Time to Marry (1938). Subtly, the thrust of the crusade changed: as in later investigations into the civil services, universities, and other spheres, including dentistry and the US mail, the purpose of the Hollywood hearings was to render unemployed and unemployable anyone who was or had been a Communist or "fellow traveler." Liberals like John Huston (1906–1987) or Kirk Douglas (b. 1916) survived only through canniness—a combination of undoubted box office track record, token anti-Red statements (or films), and an independent streak that would lead to work outside the troubled studio system (other federal committees were breaking up monopolies on exhibition and production), eventually becoming free of the powers who could actually draw up and enforce blacklists.
There was, of course, no formal blacklist. It operated on threat and innuendo, with a complex system of extortion, blackmail, and intimidation, even including approved methods for getting off the list through strategic self-abasement (cooperation with the FBI) or actual bribery. Initially, the blacklisted were names compiled by HUAC for their hearings, but the work was taken up enthusiastically by the American Legion and a private firm called American Business Consultants, who "exposed" subversives in their publications ( Firing Line , Counterattack , Red Channels ). If studios continued to hire those named, the studios would become the victims of organized boycott campaigns. In television, pressure was brought not on the broadcast companies but on the sponsors who underwrote their programs. Mistakes were made—actress Martha Scott (1914–2003) was confused with singer Hazel Scott (1920–1981) and was blacklisted.
Studio heads, their power eroded by other factors (television, antitrust legislation, impatient heirs), embraced the blacklist as a "bolting the stable door after the horse has gone" measure. Few of the men who had founded the studio system in the 1920s were in office by the end of the decade, but they tended to be eased into extraordinarily monied retirement, whereas a great many of their former employees were ostracized, persecuted, denied their professions, and forced into poverty.
When his film Cornered (1945) was targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1951 as an instance of the director (and producer Adrian Scott, another of the Hollywood Ten) sneaking Communist propaganda into an entertainment thriller, Edward Dmytryk listed all the objections that his comrades had raised to the film. "This is the thing," he said, "which actually got me out of the Party."
The only one of the Ten to work primarily as a director, Dmytryk had served a long Hollywood apprenticeship, beginning with B pictures like Television Spy (1939), The Devil Commands (1941), Confessions of Boston Blackie (1941), Captive Wild Woman (1943), and The Falcon Strikes Back (1943). Then, as now, the B movie "quickies" were sometimes made by young directors with ambition, and a solidly made, imaginatively shot cheap horror film or series thriller might lead to healthier budgets and more challenging projects. At RKO, Dmytryk was awarded some plums: the Ginger Rogers wartime comedy drama Tender Comrade (1943), scripted by another of the Hollywood Ten, Dalton Trumbo; and the Raymond Chandler thriller Murder, My Sweet (1944). The film noir style, just then becoming popular, could obviously be turned to social issues—which prompted Dmytryk to have Dick Powell track Nazi war criminals in Cornered and to expose Robert Ryan as an anti-Semitic murderer in Crossfire (1947).
Unique among the Ten, Dmytryk served his jail sentence for contempt of Congress, then cooperated with the Committee and resumed his career as a director. Among the penitent activities required of him was cooperating with journalist Richard English on a 1951 Saturday Evening Post article, "What Makes a Hollywood Communist?" In it, he claimed "I believed that I was being forced to sacrifice my family and my career in defense of the Communist Party, from which I had long been separated and which I had grown to dislike and distrust." In his testimony, he cited the invasion of South Korea and the trials of State Department officials presumed to be Soviet spies as the reasons for his change of mind and stated "I don't say all members of the Communist Party are guilty of treason, but I think a party that encourages them to act in this capacity is treasonable."
In the 1950s and beyond, Dmytryk made a few solid films, often concerned with issues of leadership, oppression and rebellion: The Caine Mutiny (1954), Broken Lance (1954), and Warlock (1959). Sadly, his credit was more often found on dull, troubled, conventional soap material like the first version of The End of the Affair (1955), Raintree County (1957), or The Carpetbaggers (1964), and his career petered out with stodgy international genre films like Shalako (1968) and Bluebeard (1972), starring Richard Burton.
Tender Comrade (1943), Murder, My Sweet (1944), Crossfire (1947), The Caine Mutiny (1954), Broken Lance (1954), Warlock (1959)
Dmytryk, Edward. It's a Hell of a Life but Not a Bad Living . New York: Time Books, 1978.